Amongst all the Japanese car manufacturers, Honda stands out. Not just for its obsessive attention to detail, a vision pioneered by Sochiro Honda himself, but also for its interesting path through the stormy waters of the automotive industry. Started as a motorcycle manufacturer, Honda began producing cars relatively late, with tiny Kei Cars only sold in Japan.
The introduction of the Civic in 1972 perfectly coincided with the oil crisis and recession in the west. Instead of being just another “Japanese junk” car like many thought at the time, the Civic was actually superior to many western cars and it rapidly became a global bestseller. That said, there are plenty of Hondas out there that perhaps didn’t do so well, or perhaps ones you probably haven’t heard of.
Never sold outside Japan, the Honda Orthia was a compact station wagon based on the sixth-generation Civic platform. It was introduced in 1996 and discontinued in 2002. This car wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it weren’t for its specific drive train layout and the fact that Honda wanted to make a Subaru Legacy Outback competitor. The Orthia was produced with both a 1.8 and a 2-liter four-cylinder engine and had a front-wheel-drive configuration in its base-level trim. However, the majority of the customers specced the four-wheel-drive setup with the more powerful engine, which transformed the ordinary station wagon into a dirt track lifestyle vehicle. The Orthia never was a big seller though and was only ever produced in right hand drive format.
Honda EV Plus
You might think that electric vehicles are 21st-century innovations, but the truth is that there were tons of them out there long before Tesla. One of the first attempts into producing an urban EV is the Honda EV Plus from 1997. It was their first battery-powered electric car, and it was offered through a three-year lease plan and then scrapped. This means no EV Plus was ever actually sold to the public and just 340 were made. Its primary market was the States, and this little Honda had a range of 100 miles and an an electric motor with just 66 HP on tap. Compared to today`s electric cars, the Honda EV Plus was primitive and underpowered, but it did showcase Honda’s engineering prowess.
Honda 1300 Coupe
In 1969, Honda unveiled the 1300 model, which was their biggest and most advanced car of the time. The idea behind the 1300 was to release a competitor to the Toyota Corolla and Datsun 510, but its higher price, more complicated engineering and production difficulties limited the Honda 1300`s appeal. To be perfectly honest, the standard 1300 Sedan wasn’t so pretty, but the 1300 Coupe was something else.
The Coupe version looked totally different, had a plush interior, lots of sporty details and fairly decent power from its high revving 1.3-liter four-cylinder. Weighing at just over 900 kilograms, 94 horsepower was more than enough for spirited driving. Unfortunately, the global market wasn’t ready for such a sports car from Honda, and only about 38,000 were sold, mostly in Asia and Australia.
Honda Torneo SiR-T
You’ve all probably heard about the Accord, Honda`s most popular and widely-recognizable sedan. Although its not sold in Europe anymore, Accords are still in demand elsewhere. I bet you didn’t know about the Torneo SiR-T though, the Accords more sporty and elegant sibling, sold only in Japan. The Torneo SiR-T was based on the sixth-generation Accord but featured numerous unique styling details and components.
The real treat was under the hood though, featuring a 2-liter four-cylinder with a high compression engine head pushing out 200 horsepower. Pretty lofty numbers for late `90s standards. Unfortunately, for whatever reason 1,100 cars were sold from 1997 till 2000.
Honda NSX-R GT
We all know and lust after the original Honda NSX. After all, it was a revolutionary supercar which is still quite competent and extremely rewarding to drive. Over its 15-year production span, Honda made several interesting limited editions but none more special than the NSX-R GT. This mythical model was created in 2002 in just five copies. The NSX-R GT was a homologation special for the highly competitive Japanese Super GT Championship, and its only task was to win it.
The differences between the regular NSX and the NSX-R GT are numerous, and Honda was always very hush hush about releasing any official information and specs of the NSX-R GT model. For example, the engine is the same 3.2-liter V6, but we don’t really know what is the actual power output and if there is any significant increase in horsepower.
Honda Civic Mugen Si Mugen
In production since 1972 and with more than 20 million examples made, the Civic has always been Honda`s biggest hit. However, relatively few of these vehicles sold have been sporty versions. Among those models, there were even fewer tuned by Mugen, Honda`s performance and aftermarket specialist. Mugen cars have almost mythical status amongst the Honda fans since most of Mugen products are sold only in Japan. In 2008, Honda decided to offer the Civic Mugen Si in sedan form to American buyers.
Sitting above the regular Civic SI, it was suited to a buyer who wanted something a little more hardcore. Under the bonnet was the same 2.0-liter Si engine with 197 HP but the suspension, brakes, exterior, and interior were all upgraded. Honda limited production numbers to only 1000 examples, all of which were snapped up, despite each Mugen Si costing around $30,000. Quite expensive for a civic, but for a limited edition car, it’s understandable.
Which forgotten Hondas did I miss from the list? Can you think of any others? Let me know in the comments.